For Kenneth Irby / 'The Intent On' (January–May 2012)

Kenneth Irby and Robert Grenier, Berkeley, 1986.

Where to Begin ?  Start anywhere, and lines of ‘connection’ reach out toward other possible ‘brethren’/testimonies/‘betrayers of the truth’ guised in largely-invented-for-the-pleasure-of-the-tale/seeming-pure-relational-relation-of-event-type ‘stories of mine’ … about ‘Past Times’ I truly can’t remember (in very good detail), but will insist on telling you about anyway
What’s the Good of ThatGive it Up  !
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Kenneth Irby (who was ‘Best Man’ at our wedding in May 1963), my long-lifetime friend (!) — known as “Ken Irby” — remains a primary down-to-earth/‘everyday’ companion AND (beyond me) A ‘Communicator with Other Elements’, and as such, defiesDescription’ …

I Dare You !
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I shall begin.
When I returned (after a two-year/‘wandering’ leave of absence) to Harvard College and Cambridge (from which I had formerly felt ‘alienated’, being from Minneapolis (‘behind’)/a ‘hick’), Ken was There ! (Robert Creeley had told me to look up Ken and Elsa Dorfman and Gordon Cairnie and his Grolier Book Shop — that made all the difference, for me.)
Ken was almost five years older, and he was in his third year in graduate school in Far Eastern Studies and ‘knew the ropes’ — not only re Harvard but something of what was ‘Going On’ in the otherwise-staid apartment building immediately adjacent to 6 Plympton Street, where the daughter of Alfred North Whitehead lived … and Which (amongst the passers-by) She Was (Jessie) … !  Not that that, in itself, was/is ‘important’, but (at the time it was exciting !) — displayed a (an) enviable capacity to see/attend to ‘the World’, and remember clearly somehow ‘significant’ aspects of same, and to ‘saythese/them …
I owe much of my ‘knowledge’ of my own early world to/from meeting Ken (I think in the Grolier (?) in October (?) 1962) and from knowing/learning something of his ‘procedure’ by visiting/walking around and talking with him. I thought Ken wasadvanced’ !  (Later I saw him as the only person I’ve known who really was/IS Emerson’s “American Scholar”.)
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He had (one side of) his own little House — 429 Franklin Street, probably a ‘Pre-Built’ (even then)/anyway ‘hammered together’ Bungalow (or was there an upstairs? with Strangers going up & down steps at all hours … ?  I don’t remember that, or do I ?) with raw-built/‘junky’/ground floor flats either side of front door — but ‘clean’ (only because just-built, in ‘vacant’ lot must have been recently bulldozed (older house destroyed?)), was dirt …

Ken was King there  !  !  (Every Man His (Every One Their’) Home-On-Earth, Wherever It Is/May Be … !)
Was Up andOperating’, going on with his ‘business’ (of his life in the history/presence of phenomena) …
Knew Who the affable/Lowell-House-ensconced Society of Fellows fellow was … who was suspected of stealing books from the Grolier, but had never been caught … and pointed him out …
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There was Always Music (listened to very intently, or ‘somewhere in the background’ more or less All The Time … as if dream-intelligence could be carried on/continue into waking life … !), and it permeates the work (often explicitly referenced:  “Delius”, “Frog Ben Webster”, “Bach’s Art of the Fugue”) as a ‘structural base’ & as an ‘accompaniment’/‘friend’ to thinking, imagining & saying — in Cambridge in the fall of 1962, in that house on Franklin Street, there was a whole range of sound on Ken’s phonograph that ‘contributed substantially’ to my musical education (e.g., Savoy recordings of Charlie Parker/Miles Davis — Too Quick for Me ! — & phrasings/‘sliding notes’ sung by Billie Holiday) — it was just there, almost as a ‘Solid Object’, a Given — how wonderful to have (& know the value of having) Sound-in-Life (!) … and continuing certainly in Berkeley in that ‘shiplike house’ (‘beached’ not too far from the Bay at 1614 1/2A Russell Street), with its ‘poop deck’ pitched out into the proprietary/tutelary backyard walnut tree … and later when Ken was staying at John Friedman’s on Carrison Street … and then in the ’70s in Medford, MA (when Ken was living in his basement apartment & teaching at Tufts)(Let the Snow Fall & The Cold Wind Blow!) … and also for a week in Bolinas (when Ken stayed with me in the ’90s), why, it was, What Shall We Listen to Next …  ?
Thereby to continue to participate in the Continuum of Sound going on (all the time) in the World/in the Brain that so ‘energizes our existence’/gives us Life … ‘Music’ absolutely amongst the ‘best things’ Humans Are/have ‘done’ … I agree !
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And so it came to pass, in those days (behind closed doors, leaning up against the kitchen sink), that there was marijuana — a real ‘eye-opener’, to (Minneapolis) me — with its capacity to ‘broaden one’s horizon’/sharpen the senses to concentrate upon (formal apparitions) particulars of sight, sound and intellection … ‘taste’ … i.e., the whatness of the thatness (!), added to the thatness of the whatness (!) … i.e., the ‘for itself’ of the ‘in itself’ of the ordinary evidentiary reality of any old thing …
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And Ken had Headaches, a lot, in the old days — severe ‘Migraine’ (?) headaches that Afflicted Him — and I thought that maybe the Ongoingness of the almost-always-sounding-music provided him a ‘better place’ he could travel into/‘occupy’, despite the other (pain) … (demons writhing/clutching their horns in Kurosawa’s Dreams) …
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I never saw Ken ‘work’ (I think he said he studied in the library) — was he a T.A. too ? — Off he went (no matter what), in the morning, to ‘school’ … His ‘advantage’ (& ‘torment’?) was that he just fucking well memorized everything he turned his mind to … !  I felt that that was fundamentally ‘unfair’ …
He told me that, if you stand in a hot shower for 10 minutes in the morning, and let the water play upon the back of your neck And if you’ve remembered to drink a large glass of water before youse went to bed — youse can ‘keep going’ … even if you first think you can’t, trying to wake up/stand … you Arrive in the lecture hall, in your seat, with notes ready.
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I had a ‘state of the art’ (heavy/dense) Wollensak ‘portable’/reel-to-reel tape recorder my Aunt Augusta had given me, and Ken had a tape (I think he was given by Paul Blackburn?) of Zukofsky reading in NY (part of “A-9” & “A-11”) that was ‘brand new’ to me (& just riveting) … LZ said he would read “A-11” for “Robert” who had requested it (& I’ve wondered to this day who that “Robert” is … Creeley?) — and I had a tape Marthe Rexroth had given me of Creeley reading early poems and one wonderful story, called “The Grace”, which begins something like “From somewhere else he could hear it, but the crying at least had stopped …” and we listened to these (& others, too), as part of aforementioned ongoing/continuing ‘musical education’.
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It’s No Wonder (to me) that he teaches / is ‘responsible for’ basically All of American Literature (in relation to its ‘historical settings’ & wide/various ‘foreign influences’/‘cultural context’) from the beginnings forward (+ an occasional foray into Shakespeare & the English Romantics & ?) for the University of Kansas English Department without any sort of ‘degree’ (undergraduate or graduate) in English or American Literature At All …
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He wasn’t onlyfrom-there’ — he wasn’t really-from-there — he was from ‘Kansas’ … ! !
“Kansas, Kansas, no peace I find … I got Kansas, Kansason my mind !”
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I thought I was an ‘Athlete’ (what with all my experience of high school basketball, etc.), but I must say Ken would walk very fast (it was his ‘exercise’, in Cambridge, & in Berkeley later), we would walk very fast … whenever we set off to walk anywhere … over those rough/red-brick sidewalks (roots of the trees having jumbled/thrown bricks up) … toward whatever (‘object of desire’) mundane destination was our goal … a ‘Movie’ … ?
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I’ve always thought he liked ‘deep’/‘thick’ things (like Tennyson’s syrupy “Lady of Shalott”), but then he pointed out also virtues of ‘simple’ (forgotten) lyrics by Whittier, Bryant, etc. (“To A Waterfowl”) …
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He is/was ‘Self-Absorbed’/‘Self-Preoccupied’ And remarkably ‘Other-Centered’ (as I am myself) … Had (has) an impenetrable-furrowed Forehead (with large, wide-spaced/‘liquid’ Eyes) … which he turns, and directs toward ‘Things’ …
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Testy, why sometimes, YESI Should Say So  !  !
A former Debater (like Olson), he likes a ‘contest’ — he warms to the occasion, marshals his forces, and lays on (“Lay on, Macduff !”) — until no suitable rejoinder is possible (I remember fewer things — I mean stuff I could use as ‘example’/proving my point, as the evening wears on … frankly, I QUIT ! … not wanting to hurt him (or our friendship), or to be injured myself !  WE NEVER CAME TO BLOWS !
There was Silence … Silence is Best …
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The ‘Silence of the Written Page’ … Ken was always writing, drawing, making marks … I think in pencil, early on (I remember pencil on yellow/lined legal pads, for letters), but later using what seemed a specially sought-after/‘not inexpensive’ (‘fountain’?) pen … which he used for his daily/journal practice of noting down what was ‘going on’/what was happening in his mind — I remember in Berkeley he had got on to a source for a particularly agreeable Stanford Laboratory Notebook, with graph-paper pages laid out widely horizontally, which accommodated far ranging imaginings and workings (like a landscape stretching to the horizon) …
There should be a ‘Big Book’ of KI’s ‘Holographic Work’ (notebook pages, letters, handwritten poems & drawings) … many of these are masterworks, as ‘Objects’ (cf. Larry Eigner’s typewritten letters & poems) !
Absolutely the Best ‘Correspondent’/epistolary individual personage I’ve known … someone who ‘Wrote Letters’, which were a considerable ‘help’ to me, during the course of my existence … and variously ‘Set an Example’ … for me …
Something ‘Abstract’ about all that extraordinary/extensive/intensive attention-to-detail given to the Written Page (no matter the ‘intimacies’ there revealed or withheld), about absorbing oneself in the task of writing-by-hand ‘about’ stuff going on … at the ‘distance’ the ‘formal operation of writing’ necessarily (?) entails … ?  (When he bends over the notebook, it ‘looks like’ he’s preternaturally concentrated upon ‘his own doing’ … ?)
Writing Itself, by Hand (in this Age of Computers, O So Quickly!), seems a strange thing to do (‘from another age’ … ‘when men did that’) …
Writing is Strange / Writers are Strange … !   !
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What he ‘did’ (for several years) with his Library Science degree from UC Berkeley was to get a job running a Xerox machine at the Richmond Field Station of the UC Libraries, which gave him income and time to go on with his studies (& sit & write & read in Enzio’s (coffee house on the North Side of campus, gone), where ‘tone’ of the establishment/rather severe stone tables (few spoke to each other) was ‘conducive to thought’ … whereupon he stood, gathered his materials, and caught the campus bus to work) …
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He loved to Cook … aromas of different individual ingredients (garlic, esp.) cooking in the kitchen, in the late afternoon light … dinner preparing in the late afternoon sunshine in the ‘Flats’ in Berkeley, guests soon to arrive, with (maybe) Satie’s Gymnopédie on the phonograph … a glass of dark-red/‘Oxenblut’ wine (poured from a bottle ‘decanted’ from gallon jug of same from the Oak Barrel Winery on University Ave.) seeming (warmly lighted) fully dark-red and OK/‘adequate’/tasty, with glasses on wooden kitchen table for the arriving friends … in actual space/life, an image of something like An Ideal (‘Pastoral’) Existence-in-Real-Time (with sun setting down into the Golden Gate)(not unlike inviting imagination of ‘Life in California’ I formed from reading Steinbeck’s Cannery Row & Tortilla Flat in high school in Minnesota) … Just as It’s Said to Exist, in his Books (Relation & Catalpa).  Our guests have come !
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I love the Tone of that poem where he just lists names of towns in West Texas near to where he was born (Bowie, was it?) — “Tulia, Mule Shoe … Goodnight” or whatever it says — the Names for The Towns Alone! — also that of the title, The Flower of Having Passed Through Paradise in a Dream is admirable …
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We went on one (long out & back) trip on my Lambretta to see Charles Olson at 23 Fort Square in Gloucester shortly after I came back to school (in fall ’62, must have been, Ken had had some contact) — where I got to see what a ‘working poet’s place and spot’ were like (as a glimpse of/image of ‘activity on Earth’, toward my future I see now) — nothing much happened or was said (but of course I don’t remember/I was a kid/seldom spoke … maybe Ken does?), except the actual welcoming greeting by CO (who took us out walking past the basketball court to see Gloucester Harbor & the Sky before us … & 10 Lb. Island even then beginning to sail or steam away, as I learned years later reading the 3rd Maximus) — Lynn Fells Parkway part of the best route by smaller connecting roads there and back … very ‘complicated’/dark back roads in Massachusetts (!), after dark especially …
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We’ll wait until the End of Time for a proper Concordance to The Intent On by Kenneth Irby (meanwhile checking online listings at least monthly, just in case it comes out!) … Without such, unfortunately (or fortunately? … I think fortunately), this reader is left to my own ‘devices’ … one of which is, when I go to the library, I go ‘ONLINE’ (certainly there is a ‘machine’ there somewhere), where I find that Alroy or the Prince of Captivity is a novel (or ‘was’, since who beside Ken Irby may actually have read it? … in context of contemporary persons reading “the Prince of the Captivity with a defective brain / chased down the street by his father …” in “Heredom” ?) — but maybe (?) I don’t need to read it (since I don’t have the lifetime to ‘follow up’ on this (or yet another source for “the Prince” Ken has just told me exists on the phone, which either he didn’t specify or I didn’t register & therefore can’t ‘find out about’ that easily & doubtless wouldn’t have pursued anyway because I’m so lazy!)) by Benjamin Disraeli, Victoria’s Prime Minister [anybody online have an opinion about this book?] — in my ignorance (close to ‘utter unknowing’) I’m left with my ‘emptied-out’/‘contemporary’ experience of the text itself! — I ‘see’ this ‘weirdo’ running naked down the street in ‘some imagined place’ (not unlike Irby’s housing compound (‘there’?) in Lawrence, Kansas), and it’s a BIG/STRANGE/‘unusual’/UNEXPLAINED ‘EVENT’—and even if I were so ‘bright’ as to devote (or have devoted) my lifetime to tracking down Kenneth Irby’s ‘sources’ (& how could even Ken himself do that?), I still wouldn’t have a Clue … as to how “the Prince of the Captivity” is to be understood (in relation to the other elements immediately preceding & following in that poem), without ‘reading’ (& otherwise directly experiencing) the Poem on its Page (for me, in (large) Station Hill OREXIS) — I have no idea why “the Prince” is running around naked (in ‘Fort Scott’?), but I register the phenomenon and am drawn into contemplation of it (in my ignorance) on the page, for itself
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There is a marvelous, magisterial ‘sound capacity’ (‘music’), that ranges out to accompany the proximity of ‘the thing itself’ (whatever that might be, or need to be) — a range of the imaginative capacity to seize on ‘local materials’ and release them into themselves/beyond themselves.
What could not a being of this order, possessed of the ‘Power of Poetry’ … say (or ‘do’) which was not (‘in itself’) accomplished-as-such … ?
The World needs A Writing of This Order … to ‘know itself’ !
[cf. Ashbery][KI much more ‘literal’, but undertakings wd be usefully juxtaposed re imagining circumstances into existence …]
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As a person by now significantly far advanced in Free Masonry, Irby is ‘sworn to secrecy’ … but (it seems) so are certain most common occasions/events (those that ‘motivate’ us to take off our glasses, & take a ‘good look’ at them) which very seldom give us to understand ‘more’ ‘about them’ than what we begin to ascertain from that first fascinated gaze …
Looking up from his books (& brain), he sees him (“the Prince”) in the Real Street, and sets that forth …
The whole business of being alive on Earth is clear/obscure from start to finish … ! !
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Re Orexis:
This is some of the strangest fuckin stuff I’ve ever come across — I don’t like ‘being in the dark’ (I may be dumb, but I’m not that stupid) — I don’t like not comprehending what is being said (though some elements are ‘clear as mud’, most often ‘the whole’ is fundamentally beyond my knowing … and I even suspect the author has ‘worked the material’ to make it purposefully so!) — the ‘tone’ is wonderfully ‘tuneful’/thoroughly engaging/humanly ‘right there’ throughout, so I know I’m being directly addressed (& I do ‘hear’) — but I (often) ‘can’t make out the words’, and then when I think I’ve made sense of some fantastic passage, immediately there’s ‘another mystery’ and I can’t fathom the ‘relation’ of that to what came before …
Ye Gods / Egad !  Could Life Itself be like this stuff here ?  Am I doomed to endure engaging glimpses/sudden bright pain and openings out (& closings) of Grand Vistas on …
I do (& don’t) want to camp out (overnight, &/or ‘stay the day’) in this old County Park among the cottonwoods down by this muddy creek, if I’m not going to be given to understand more than a fraction of what’s going on/happening to me …
Imagine (just for a moment, ‘theoretically’) being born into a life this ‘rich and complex’/‘foreign and familiar’, and just having to live it through (without achieving ‘knowledge’) until whatever ‘utter darkness’ comes …
It can’t be ‘the case’ …  !   !   I will Not ‘CAMP OUT’  !  (“The Camp if it is a camp …” etc., p. 423)
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The impossible task is to ‘write the Thing Itself’, before it expires, or you die … totally absorbed into that ‘activity’ …
The Miracle is that many among the many shapes of numerals and letters ‘signify’ at all … ‘beyond themselves’, somehow … !
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I like the intensity of the ‘presentation’/engagement with certain ‘event-states’—like being ‘the One’ to directly imagine/examine/‘project’ thawed-out cottonwoods or willows-along-stream­bed begin to ‘bud-out’ in early springtime — or being Carried Away by ‘the Tengu’ so exceptionally scarey (!), by the Hair … !  Flying !  !
Come back with bottoms of soles burnt, if ‘come back’ (damaged) …
This time (Chippewa Customs?) I think I’m ‘quite comfortable’, knowing what I think I know, about that (since I’ve read something ‘like that’ in a book of Algonquin (Odjibwa?) legends and belief … or in a story by Algernon Blackwood ?) …
How to interrogate (‘for itself’) a customary terrain, and inhabit it (the ‘North Woods’, or marshes/long winding course of the Danube through ‘the Birches’) — ‘for itself’, anew …
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For years I’ve ‘marked’ and loved the “Point Reyes Poem” in Relation (+ its ‘sequels’ in “Point Reyes Poem, 2” &, for me, “3 Aug 1971, Waiting at the Mediterraneum for Bean and Lowell”, in Catalpa), which on one level chronicles a long day’s outing from Berkeley — big Sunday hike out to the Ocean & back from Pt. Reyes Seashore Headquarters, up over Mt. Wittenburg … then a drive (all the driving is ‘left out’ … but what Fortitude these ‘young people’ must have had (!), for YEA, in one day they covered a lot of ground … driving back very late to Berkeley, too!) all the way up to Occidental, where Lowell Levant and Ken ate many substantial courses at night in one of the three Italian Restaurants which existed there then … On another (‘deeper’?) level, “Point Reyes Poem” and its ‘sequels’ map the territory and much of the range of ‘feeling’ that — after twenty-three years’ residency in Bolinas — this ‘warm’(cool)/absolutely habitable/edge-of-the-earth place still has for me … foreordaining in poetry much of the Happiest/Situationally Open and Mysterious part of my existence here !
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That sequence of four extraordinary (mushroom- or acid-fueled?) ‘developed-human’ Drawings in Catalpa (it doesn’t matter what the ‘fuel’ was — what matters amazingly is the sequence of Drawings themselves!), which could be interpreted to mean the literally experienced ‘breakdown of the person’ into bits, then the ability to learn to take residence in said bits, then (inside that) gradual reassemblage/‘creation of a New Man’ out of different/actual particles (left over from ‘the Explosion’ or newly born) — how wonderfully and carefully drawn (!), this evocation of A-Fellow-Who-Never-Before-Was, who might be a ‘self-styled’ (drawn) image of a ‘developed’ Ken Irby, drawn by Ken himself ! — parts of ‘Him’ are still rattling about/out there/‘free-floating-material’ in the Cosmos — while his Big (‘Goofy’) Ears keep flapping (celebrating something or other?) — and He Walks Toward Me … !   !    SEE … ?
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What if the Heraclitus fragment, “Man is estranged from that with which he is most familiar” (which Olson makes the epigraph to his The Special View of History & translates, in relation to his own circumstance, in “Maximus, to himself” as “I stood estranged / from that which was most familiar”) might mean, not that we are not fairly well acquainted with Tom, Dick, Jane and Harry (or the vicissitudes of the kitchen faucet/rhythm of its drip, etc.) — each one has to know a great many things about many things (‘up close & personal’) in his/her immediate environment merely to stay alive — but that ‘the other side of the ordinary’ (e.g., the Moon), which we but dimly perceive (or allow to ‘signal itself’ from behind the scenes, as ‘twere) might hold the ‘key’ to our (proper) understanding of the whole thing, were we but able to attend to that which is also being said/also being presented to our understanding by certain (somehow ‘highlighted’) ‘common objects’ … which are ‘showing’/‘giving themselves’ to us (mere mortal knowing), to be (partially) fathomedif one can (as though our very lives depended on it) …
That’s how anything/anyone ‘gets your attention’ — when ‘something about them’/something that they ‘do’, is both ordinary and extraordinary — What’s Happening ? / Who AreThey’  ? ?
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This ability to interrogate and ‘develop’ the meaning of the (‘imaginary’?) ordinary (‘hours of the day’) in the writing is ‘matched’ by (what was, for me, a series of tutelary/‘learning’ occasions) Ken’s (‘Love of Life’?) capacity/interest to sniff, grab, lift-to-bring-to-the-eyes-without-glasses-to-see/exclaim about … to suddenly wish to ‘know’ (in real life) ‘more about’ whatever it was he was interested to turn his brow toward/was intent to find out more about …
This plus a seeming sluggishness (silence) on occasion (as of a large bison in a group of bison standing still, before all ran), betokening (to me) that ‘the little grey cells in the forehead vast’ were functioning …
On such occasions, I (stupidly) couldn’t think of anything I could do to ‘help’ — and it wasn’t my province to ‘help’, anyway.  I Say !  !
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One could sense, early on, that Ken would keep-on-doing whatever it was that he was-is-doing, until whatever it ‘was/is’ had been brought into its proper (fantastic!) condition/form of existence (the word ‘obstinate’ throws the ‘wrong light’ on it, I feel, & in any case is inadequate to express the energy & determination of his devotion to his task & the nobility of his purpose!) — only then would he (mop his brow)(maybe) and cease his Creative Quest … !
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The following are a few among the ‘best realized’/‘most highly developed’ forms (for me, at least), in their ways … ‘potential anthology pieces’ (?) … though formal perfection is not what KI is after, finally (rather something like ‘overall integrity of the serial undertaking’, as evidenced particularly everywhere in the sound … what ‘qualifies’ KI’s work, makes it stand forth as that of a ‘Serious Artist’ in Pound’s sense (the way Oistrakh is immediately recognizably ‘Oistrakh’, whether it’s Shostakovich, Brahms Violin & Piano Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108 (e.g., as performed with Richter 28 December, 1968 in Moscow), or Bach) … or maybe it’s just that I feel a ‘particular affinity’ for the ‘serum’ of these:
“Near Equinox” (pp. 294-95)
“come back to Delius in Duke …” (p. 320)
“The students from Cracow leave …” (p. 335)
The ‘scattered’/‘fragmented’ drawing of a hand releasing a bird (p. 337)
“Homage to Tennyson — ‘The Lady of Shalott’” (pp. 344–45)
All of the section “RUNNING LIGHTS” (pp. 425–35)
“I met the Angel Sus on the Skin Bridge …” (p. 442)
“slowly the old stone building walls downtown dissolve …” (pp. 442–43)
“[given: three beavers in a tree]” (p. 445)
“a silence in the Central Tree …” (p. 489)
“our makers beside us …” (pp. 492–93)
“the Chamber of Reflection …” (p. 495)
All of the section “A SET.” (pp. 507–17)
“The quiet intricate interior forest …” (pp. 550–51)
“[study]” (p. 647)
“[Record]” (pp. 666–67)
This — only tonight’s brief sample …
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The Affection for people and places known and visited — and the elegiac way in which such persons and circumstances are presented — even (& especially) when they are actually happening/‘Alive’/emerging into History — establishes a ‘governing tone’ which carries through all of The Intent On … becoming (in this reader’s mind) a Love-for-the-Extended-World (Zukofsky-Spinoza), and a discerning regard for its complex and various manifestations … that accomplishes (through the writing) the Abiding Value of these poems …
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I have a recurring image of Ken taking off his glasses, vigorously rubbing his eyeballs with the bottoms of both palms (for the Scales shall Fall Away … ?), then looking up directly at me …
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Certain lines (& sequences) are ‘Memorable’/‘stick in the brain’ … come of themselves (seemingly when ‘They’ want to) — e.g., “braineaters wait by the stone garage” — wherever they ‘Came From’ (movies, dream ?) — and ‘re-emerge’ (of Themselves), for me, sometimes-strangely, when the nature of the (unknown) ‘situation’ requires them (as adjacent means of ‘reading’/‘trying to figure out’ what’s ‘going on’) — one of the primary ‘Uses of Poetry’/measures of whether the verse is ‘any good’ (reliable), as truly wonderful as this is …

— Robert Grenier
    May 18, 2012


The poem I’ve chosen is on the page called “ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS” in The Intent On / Collected Poems, 1962-2006 by Kenneth Irby (edited by Kyle Waugh & Cyrus Console & published by North Atlantic Books in Berkeley in 2009).
What I want to say here is that, I’m planning to say that, it being the case that (here in my first or second paragraph), I think that Space (& Time), here, both do and do not permit me to provide you with my Entire Exegesis of All of the Whole Kenneth Irby Poem … Therefore and nevertheless and inscrutably, I think it becomes me to necessarily concentrate my explicative attentions exclusively upon the commenting upon of the (strangely ‘formulaic’ — KI does not usually compose such) Long List of (here it gets interesting) Persons Acknowledged (to whom he ‘owes debts’, not including the many others unnamed), whom he names by their first names only (in association with other first-named persons, where ‘coupling’ was actual & appropriate) in ‘seemingly random order’ (very New Age!), except the poem reads as a gradually expressing feeling/remembering of ‘All the people who gave him Life, in real life’ … so that their Names (a couple of which might be ‘misspelled’?) occur as a (heartfelt & ‘soul-remembered’) Ghastly Show of (Friends) Kings …
This ‘first-name list’ causes each one named Almost-Actually-to-Occur … !  How so ?
How strange (& ‘familiar’) to have been born into this World … and to have had ‘important relations’ with ‘other’ human beings (‘Humans’) … who have been ‘known-to-be-themselves’/called by each of us by such names … as our ‘familiars’ … by their first names …
Preposterous to call this a ‘Poem’ (‘twas never intended to be such … or was it?)(so much for “Intent” …!), but it does ‘illustrate’ something of the ‘central problem’ (difficulty)(intent) of the work … its Klar-Obskur (chiaroscuro) foregrounding of a Much longer series of names than was ever seen before in such ‘conventional position’ on an acknowledgement page — but a presentation of ‘first names’ only (& a withholding of ‘last names’) which makes the list at once intensely ‘personal’/‘familiar’ (recognizing that finally only Ken knows who these beings are) and seemingly ‘direct’ and ‘immediate’, while rendering it fundamentally opaque to the ‘general reader’ (who could not be expected to fully know who/what these names ‘signify’ even if all the last names were given too) … but presented like this, ‘alone’, the first names ‘empty out’ into the ‘Well of Time’ … and become metonymic for all the dear human beings who were ever dear to any mortal human being ever alive …
That an increasing number of these Persons named are ‘dead and gone’ (some were at the time of the writing of this “Acknowledgements”, but their names then too were woven-in-with the names of the living) and thus cannot know that they are being acknowledged as having been of primary importance to the author … or can they ? … if they are being summoned (by the ‘spell’/by the power of the explicit recitation of their familiar names, just so), Maybe They Can … whereupon it is ‘meet’ to address them (still) by their first names, as KI does here …
So the ‘quality of affection’ (which Pound names — Creeley, e.g., cites — as a primary measure of poetry) — “What thou lovest well remains / the rest is dross …” — ‘extends out’ from whoever these individuals are/have been … to (in effect) embrace all living beings (in a Buddhist sense — compassion for all sentient beings) … every being that is, or was, or could be imagined to be (or could never be) … all of these are ‘named’, are summoned into all time and space and Void … in this Dumb Show of Significant Ones … and thanked for having been a ‘part’ of (& having provided essential sustenance to) Kenneth Irby’s life and work (words) …
(What’s the difference between a ‘Collect’ and a ‘Collection’ … of text passages … ?)
Very ‘late Whitman’ …
“To all who know the tone — whereby life is here sustained.”